A defendant appealed an August 17, 2016 order denying his motion for summary disposition in an action arising out of injuries sustained by the plaintiff when he was riding his motorcycle, and a gas main exploded. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the Michigan motorcycle accident case for the entry of an order awarding summary disposition in favor of the defendant.On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion for summary disposition, arguing that the plaintiff’s claim was barred by governmental immunity under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA), and there was no question of fact regarding whether he acted in a grossly negligent manner.
Except under certain circumstances, the GTLA provides immunity to governmental employees from tort liability. For tort claims involving alleged negligence, lower-level governmental employees such as the defendant are entitled to immunity if the following three criteria are met: (1) they are acting or reasonably believe they are acting within the scope of their authority, (2) they are engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function, and (3) their conduct does not amount to gross negligence that is the proximate cause of the injury or damage. In this case, the plaintiff did not dispute that the defendant was acting within the scope of his authority, or that the defendant was engaged in the exercise or discharge of a government function. The central issue before the appeals court therefore was whether there was a question of fact regarding whether the defendant’s conduct amounted to gross negligence.
Gross negligence is defined by the GTLA as conduct reckless enough to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results. Simply alleging that an actor could have done more is insufficient, since a claim can always be made that extra precautions could have influenced the result. Instead, gross negligence suggests almost a willful disregard of precautions to attend to safety and a disregard for substantial risks. It is as though, if an observer watched the actor, he could reasonably conclude that the actor did not care about the safety of those in his charge. The determination of whether a governmental employee’s conduct constituted gross negligence that proximately caused the complained-of injury under the GTLA is generally a question of fact, but, if reasonable minds could not differ, a court may grant summary disposition.